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The Wellness Bus

Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation and University of Utah Health take the fight against Type 2 diabetes on the road.

By University of Utah Health

On June 4, University of Utah Health launched the Wellness Bus, a unique approach to directly reach underserved communities in the fight against Type 2 diabetes, including those populations particularly at risk for developing the disease.

The mobile outreach vehicle is part of the “Driving Out Diabetes: A Larry H. Miller Family Wellness Initiative,” announced in November 2017 and established by a gift from the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation. This initiative incorporates a novel three-pronged approach to diabetes through prevention and outreach, clinical care and research and training. The Wellness Bus provides the ability to proactively deliver screening services and health coaching to populations most vulnerable to developing diabetes. The most common form of diabetes, Type 2, can often be prevented if caught early enough.

Gail Miller of the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation speaks at the launch of “The Wellness Bus” on June 4, 2018.

“We encourage all who see the Wellness Bus to take advantage of this potentially life-saving opportunity,” said Gail Miller, chairman of the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation. “This innovative approach to help prevent diabetes will have a lasting impact on those who are susceptible to this disease and their loved ones, enriching lives for generations.”

Gail Miller describes her late husband, Larry Miller, as a man with an iron will who found a way to accomplish everything he wanted, but she says, “When you get an illness like diabetes, you cannot will it away.” Larry Miller, noted Utah businessman and philanthropist, died from complications of Type 2 diabetes when he was 64 years old. “Our family knows firsthand the effects of diabetes, and we are committed to help educate and save others from this devastating disease,” said Gail Miller.

More than 30 million Americans, or roughly 10 percent of the total United States population, suffer from diabetes. It was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2015, with 79,535 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and a total of 252,806 death certificates listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death. Additionally, 34 percent of U.S. adults have prediabetes. However, 9 out of 10 of these individuals are unaware of their prediabetes status and are at greater risk for developing diabetes.

The Wellness Bus is modeled after Harvard Medical School’s mobile health unit, The Family Van, which has served Boston neighborhoods for over 25 years. The Wellness Bus is a diesel-powered, 40-foot custom designed RV that has two private counseling rooms, two screening stations and a waiting/education area. The external design was inspired by community members from Glendale, Utah, and aims to highlight healthy foods and activities, as well as multicultural inclusiveness. The Wellness Bus will offer chronic disease screening, nutrition education, health and wellness counseling and medical and social services referrals to Utahns who live in communities with populations that are at a high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Gail Miller and University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins at “The Wellness Bus” launch event.

Since the initiative’s announcement in November, the team at University of Utah Health has gathered input from community members — through conversations with educators, librarians, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, free and reduced cost medical clinics and health departments — to design and execute a program that will complement existing services to promote healthier lifestyles.

“Even in a relatively healthy state like Utah, the diabetes epidemic and the potential epidemic of prediabetes is pretty significant, and no single health system or group can address this,” said U of U Health Chief Wellness Officer Robin Marcus, a member of the leadership team guiding the Driving Out Diabetes Initiative. “I think Gail Miller, her family and we at U of U Health understand that many people will not get the care they need unless we, as a community, come together and decide we’re going to do something.” Marcus added, “We are extremely grateful to the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, and we applaud Gail Miller’s leadership and vision in helping us bring this concept to life. This novel approach allows us to proactively reach the people who need us most — in a way that is accessible and relevant to their daily lives.”

The initiative has identified four communities where there is significant opportunity to have an impact on diabetes prevention: Kearns, South Salt Lake, Midvale and Glendale. The Wellness Bus staff and volunteers hit the road on June 8 to help improve the health and wellness of individuals in these communities.